Sunday, 6 April 2008

Awareness campaigns

In an effort to kick-start my brain out of holiday mode and back into activity, I present a few of my thoughts on awareness campaigns - something that's been brewing in my mind for a while now.

I think it started during Breast Cancer Awareness Month last year, when I noticed an application on FaceBook which allowed users to display pink ribbons on their profiles (which is, of course, the symbol of breast cancer awareness). There were no donations going on that I could see - it was simply a picture of a pink ribbon, to "raise awareness". I'm all for raising awareness, particularly about important health issues such as breast cancer. But my problem with this particular campaign is twofold.

Firstly, the very fact that all you need is a pink ribbon to show support for this cause (and when was the last time someone asked what it meant to wear one?) surely demonstrates that awareness is pretty damned high. Second, it's not an information campaign any more; it's lost whatever substance it had, and is now more of a fashion statement than a part of a serious educational campaign. This is related to my first point because I think this is what will inevitably happen when an awareness campaign succeeds in its goal.

For the record, when I have the money to spare (which isn't often, being a poor penniless student), I'll donate to these causes. I'll also attempt to educate myself about them. But I won't simply display their symbol to "raise awareness" about something that no longer needs it.

So I'd like to take this opportunity to mention a couple of things awareness of which I feel needs to be raised. Firstly, female genital mutilation, or female circumcision. This WHO fact sheet covers most of what you need to know about this issue, and it's quite amazing that it's only now filtering into the public consciousness. I myself only became aware of this horrific practice in the last couple of months, and I can confidently describe myself as better-informed than the vast majority of the public. If anything could do with an awareness campaign, it's this - though I am fairly certain it would never take off, as it predominantly affects African and Middle-Eastern countries.

Also, and closer to home, I'd like to see an atheism awareness campaign - which is actually seemingly close to becoming a reality. As has been pointed out in various blogs, podcasts, articles and interviews, there are certain parallels between atheism now and homosexuality in the 1980s. There are a lot of atheists out there who either don't know that they are, or are reluctant to admit it due to the social repercussions. I'm very pleased to be able to consider myself a part of the burgeoning "out-of-the-closet" atheist community, to which the internet has been a huge help. We need people to feel comfortable admitting their atheism, and an educational campaign about what exactly atheism (or secularism, humanism, whatever) means.

So please, let's have some awareness campaigns for things that need awareness. Don't ignore old issues like cancer, of course, but don't get caught up in the fashion of simply promoting awareness of issues that no longer need it.

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